Zoning change in Fort Wright doesn't sit well with neighbors in Covington's Latonia neighborhood

Big warehouse would go in across from townhomes
Posted at 7:00 AM, Apr 29, 2017

FORT WRIGHT, Ky. -- Some Latonia residents don't think Fort Wright's recent map amendment that took a property from multifamily to industrial was very neighborly.

Those folks sit on one side of the line that divides Covington's Latonia neighborhood and property in Fort Wright that is accessed from Howard Litzler Road.

What residents see now is a four-unit town-home structure across a meadow. If all goes as planned, they'll eventually be looking at an 11-foot berm that will try to hide a 40,000-square-foot warehouse and office structure with a 69-car parking lot.

"All I asked was for them to be a good neighbor and be respectful of our residents in Latonia," said Bill Wells, city commissioner in Covington. "There was nothing Covington could do about it."

This map shows the size of the proposed development and proximity to homes in Latonia. (Provided by KCI Properties)

Dave Hatter, Fort Wright mayor, said the city is not obligated to accept the planning commission's recommendation. One council member, Bernie Wessels, recused himself, being the father of the developer. One other council member voted no on the issue.

The proposed warehouse will likely come with noise, including backup alarms from trucks, light pollution and visual concerns, according to residents. As a compromise, the developer, Kent Wessels of KCI Properties, said they will build a bigger berm (up from 6 feet) and add 15 feet to the setback, taking it to 30 feet.

It will be tight. The building and parking will use most of the available land. Latonia neighbors' recourse at this point?

"Honestly, it's a lost battle," said resident Katie Gasdorf.

Covington officials told the neighbors the only recourse would be hiring attorney, and that would be on the neighbors' bill, she said.

A rendering of the front of the proposed development. (Provided by KCI Properties)

It's surprising the issue doesn't come up more often considering the number of Northern Kentucky communities that butt up against each other. While Fort Wright had the authority to rezone the land, which it did on April 5, it went against the Kenton County Planning Commission's ruling on the matter. And that's not a very common thing.

"More often than not, the planning commission's recommendations is upheld,"  said Emi Randall, director of Kenton County Planning and Zoning Administration. "Unfortunately, some cities behave differently with their neighbors."

Randall said this zoning issue is probably the reason local governments worked so hard in the 1960s to form the commission -- there was a fear of fragmented growth. "It's a good example of why a countywide planning commission is a good idea," she said.

Homes on Latonia's West 33rd Street have the most direct views of the townhouses. Neighbors on Cottage  Avenue, and likely Emerson Street and 35th Street, also could face noise or light pollution.

The side of the townhouses off Howard Litzler Road in Fort Wright. Across the way is a home on 33rd Street. In the new plan, that home's backyard will butt up to the berm for the new development. (Vickie Ashwill | WCPO contributor)

The townhomes sit on slightly more than six acres, where a sale is still pending, according to Laura Rohling, the listing agent from Sibcy Cline. About four acres is usable; the area closest to the road is a deep ravine. The property is listed at $395,000.

The real estate listing on Sibcy Cline pitched the possibility of rezoning the property to industrial.  Trees and a ravine block the view of the townhomes from Howard Litzler, and likely any other development, from the Howard Litzler side. But once in the townhome parking lot, renters can easily see homes on 33rd Street and vice versa.

Hatter noted the industrial uses all through Covington. And to be fair, some neighbors in this same Latonia neighborhood already border older commercial development, mostly facing Latonia Avenue.

Wells believes the biggest impact will be noise when contractors bring their trucks with backup alarms to load or unload. "Those are very loud, very alarming," he said. "It's going to wake you up at 4 in the morning."

Wells wants the development turned so that the offices would face the neighborhood, not loading docks. "My big thing is to be a good neighbor," said Wells. He compared it to putting up a fence. "If there's a bad side, it should face you."

Wells said that the only recourse now is to hold the developer accountable if it gets too loud.

Gasdorf worries about safety as well. "Who knows who can go behind a building late at night?"

At this point it doesn't matter. The change has been approved. Gasdorf knows the ambiance of her neighborhood is about to change. "The plan stated they wanted storefronts with normal 8-5 hours of operation, but again, that is all hypothetical," she said. "Nothing is guaranteed."

Hatter said the developer is making compromises, and he thinks it's still a good thing for his city.

"Ultimately, speaking for myself, I'm going to do what's in the best interest of Fort Wright," said Hatter.

He sees potential city income from employment taxes and licenses. He also said neighbors should be happy for possible nearby job opportunities.

"I could also argue that if I lived in that neighborhood that I would much rather have (a new warehouse) than what's there now," Hatter said.

Of course, not everyone agrees.

"It's not what they wanted. It's not what we wanted," said Wells. "I don't ever see them doing a development like this where it would be impacting residents of Fort Wright."